WHO to be headed by an African for the first time

headshot tedros adhanom ghebreyesus new director general of WHO

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has been elected the new director general of the World Health Organization (WHO) by its member states at the World Health Assembly.

He will be the first African to lead the organisation, having been nominated by the government of Ethiopia where he served as minister of health from 2005–2012 and minister of foreign affairs from 2012–2016.

He will begin his five-year term on 1 July 2017, succeeding Margaret Chan, who has been WHO’s director general for more than 10 years.

As minister of health in Ethiopia, Tedros led a comprehensive reform of the country’s health system, creating 3,500 health centres and 16,000 health posts. He expanded the health workforce by 38,000 health extension workers and initiated financing mechanisms to expand health insurance coverage.

Tedros has also held positions including chair of the Board of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, chair of the Roll Back Malaria (RBM) Partnership Board and co-chair of the Board of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health. In these roles he secured record funding for of the Global Fund and RBM and created the Global Malaria Action Plan, which expanded RBM’s reach beyond Africa to Asia and Latin America.

But his election does not come without controversy. The New York Times reported that during the leadership campaign, Tedros was accused of having covered up repeated outbreaks of cholera in Ethiopia, which may have delayed the international response, and, more recently, the use of a cholera vaccine there.

He has also faced accusations of complicity in his country’s dismal human rights record, which includes massacring protesters and jailing and torturing journalists and political opponents.

Dozens of Ethiopians opposed to his candidacy demonstrated outside the Palace of Nations in Geneva, where the vote took place, and one person who interrupted the proceedings was escorted out.

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, June, Vol 298, No 7902;298(7902):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2017.20202850

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